In a season worthy of a Hollywood screenplay, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are the 2009 American League West Champions.
After all the heartache, all of the injuries, through tragedy and triumph, it's finally over.
The division-clinching win didn't exactly come as a surprise, it seemed like an inevitability for the last couple of weeks. However, Monday's 11-0 drubbing of the Texas Rangers held a deeper meaning for this team in this season.
After the tragic and gut-wrenching loss of rookie star-in-the-making Nick Adenhart, the future of the Angels' year was in doubt.
Season-ending injuries are tough enough to deal with, but to lose someone so young and so promising was an utterly crushing ordeal, for the players, the organization, and the fans.
No one could have blamed the Angels for falling out of the playoff race. But that was never an option.
Manager Mike Scioscia's unshakable determination and steady hand guided this team through the darkest possible moments and into the bright, squinting light of a third consecutive divisional crown.
He served as the emotional rock for his players, exactly what they needed in such trying times.
Monday's win may have sealed the division for the Angels, but it should also guarantee Scioscia his second Manager of the Year Award.
It would have been easy to give up, to crumple under the enormous weight of the loss of Adenhart.
Who could rightly criticize a team for succumbing to the depression and malaise that accompanies such immensely disturbing events?
And yet, Scioscia refused to turn in, refused to let Nick's memory be tarnished by such wasted emotions. Instead, he took his time to grieve with the team—and then he went out and won a division.
Of course, it wasn't even as simple as that.
On top of the emotional blow the Angels took so early on in the season, Scioscia also had to deal with significant injuries to several key players.
John Lackey and Ervin Santana, two studs in the pitching rotation, struggled through nagging arm issues in Spring Training and spent the first month and a half of the season on the 15-day Disabled List.
Kelvim Escobar, who was thought to return from shoulder surgery by April, suffered setbacks throughout the first half of the season and, despite making one start against Detroit, had to be shut down for the rest of the year. Again.
To replace these lost and injured stars, the Angels' starting rotation featured such highly recognizable names as Dustin Moseley, Sean O'Sullivan, Trevor Bell, Shane Loux, and Anthony Ortega.
Oh, did I say recognizable? I meant guys you couldn't pick out of a lineup if you were paid.
If that weren't enough, Vladimir Guerrero, the Angels' premiere slugger and run-producer, spent more than a month on the DL between April and May with a strained pectoral muscle.
With the way his swings, it's a shock he didn't pull more than just his pec.
Through it all, though, Scioscia cobbled together lineup after lineup and pitching match-up after pitching match-up to keep his team in contention.
The Angels were always a formidable opponent, even in their losses, and never once did they enter a game where you thought, “well, tonight's going to be a blowout.”
Except for those games against Roy Halladay. But really, who can beat him?
On June 11, his closed-door “talking to” helped propel the Angels to two months of unprecedented offensive success.
This past weekend, another of his private meetings pushed his team to bear down and get this division over with.
Only needing one win in the four-game series against Texas, the Halos took the field on Monday night determined not to drag things out any longer.
Like the men they'll need to be in the playoffs, they left no doubt about who the champs of the AL West were, pounding a team that had owned them the majority of the season.
The players deserve all the credit in the world for accomplishing the impossible after Adenhart's death, but Scioscia deserves just as much recognition.
Other American League managers will get some looks as well. Joe Girardi has brought his New York Yankees from third in the division last year to first in all of baseball.
In Minnesota, Ron Gardenhire's Twins are on the verge of inexplicably overtaking the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central.
However, Scioscia's achievements this season are simply unmatched.
Yes, his team was expected to win the division at the beginning of the season. But no one could have taken the Angels this far through such murky waters as their skipper Scioscia.
Watching the players douse Adenhart's jersey with beer and champagne in cathartic jubilation, an unthinkable sight when I remember Lackey and Torii Hunter holding that same jersey on the mound in silent reflection before the first game after his death.
Seeing the entire squad—starters, subs, and rookie call-ups alike—jog out to Nick's image on the center field wall and celebrate with their teammate, a stirring reminder of Hunter pounding the mural's chest and pointing to the sky before that first game got underway.
Last night's win and the touching images that accompanied it are one of those sports memories that will live on forever.
The Angels' entire season, all of the feelings, emotions, and achievements, were captured in a single photo, the team posed in celebration in front of the outfield wall, their fallen brother visible just behind them.
Finally, it is all over.
And none of it could have been possible with their manager, their leader, Mike Scioscia.